The Loop

A partial true golf trip to Scotland that sprinkles in single-malt whiskey and marathons

February 21, 2015 regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:


By Robert Kroeger, Virtualbookworm Publishing, $17.95, paperback, 156 pages

Scotland is the go-to mecca when an author needs a locale for a golf-pilgrimage tale. Secrets of Islay is the latest to employ that story device, but I daresay it's the first time a writer has thrown marathon running into the mix with golf and single-malt whiskeys.

The author, a Cincinnatian and retired dentist who has played hundreds of U.K. courses as well as run nearly 70 marathons, calls his book creative nonfiction. It takes place on the Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-lah), the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The Hebrides, the Inner and Outer, is a chain of islands (an archipelago system) off of Scotland's rugged western coastline. By latitude, Islay is nearly on the same line as Glasgow 72 miles to the east and slightly above Troon, and it's 25 miles north of Northern Ireland. The natives are heavily influenced by Norse, Gaelic and Celtic cultures, making Islay an ideal spot for a mystical golf adventure. It is, after all, known as The Queen of the Hebrides.

The sea and its creatures are a big part of Islay's attraction, plus the scenery, birdwatching and fishing. One of Islay's industries is whisky (the island has eight distilleries), and it's at a distillery where Kroeger's story begins. Seven people from points all around the globe are at a single-malt whisky tasting, learning proper drinking technique from Robbie. As so many golf journeys to Scotland begin, they are on Islay "searching for answers about life," and its bucolic setting establishes the ideal reflective atmosphere. At the end of Robbie's lesson, he shares the story of Pontius Pilate's dilemma as judge over Christ and repeats Pilate's question, "Quid est verities," or, "What is truth?"

That sets the tone for the rest of the book, and Karen, the one woman in the group, literally runs with the question. A marathoner, she challenges the others to show they have the athletic ability to run a marathon, not just walk or ride a course, and some ponder whether it's possible to excel at both long-distance running and golf. From there, the narrative blends personal and Islay feudal and clan histories with the island's golf heritage and whisky development mixed in, culminating three years later with the eventual staging of a scenic running -- the Single Malt Marathon -- and golfing event on Islay. Not everybody runs, but each person has to determine for him or herself the answer to the truth question, aided by what the island inspired in them. You'll likely match up with one of the group members to shape your own opinion. Me? I simply felt the book's message was to challenge yourself and don't stay rutted in the same comfort zone.

I particularly liked: That we, by and large, are spared the butchering of Scottish dialects that so often is part of books that include Scotland as destination.